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Beating Writer’s Block? Improving Fluency? There’s an App for That

By Austin Evans

Do you ever have the urge to write, but you’re not sure what to write about? Need ideas for inspiration? Or maybe you would simply like a fun challenge during those moments in your day when you would otherwise pass time scrolling through your inbox or social media.

For that, there’s Writing Challenge, an app of “Creative Prompts and Ideas to Spark Your Inspiration and Beat Writer’s Block.” The app is available for download for $1.99. It’s compatible with iOS and Android devices and provides a unique, game-like approach to writing by prompts.

Once the app is up and running, you simply presses “start” and the app generates a prompt. If you like the prompt, you can begin writing, but you can also scroll through multiple prompts until you find one that catches your eye.

Now, here is where Writing Challenge separates itself from traditional prompt generators: every minute you write (you can change the duration to whatever length of time you want) the app throws an additional prompt to keep you on your toes and keep the creative juices flowing.

For example, the first prompt may be to write a story including the words “kiss,” “revenge,” and “poet.” Once your time is up, another prompt will appear, urging you to add a specific setting (an abandoned house, say). Then it will prompt you to add a certain type of character, or a particular action, or a fresh idea for every given length of time you write.

Perhaps the app’s greatest function is that it strips away those doubts and inhibitions that can so easily pop up while writing, forcing you to write quickly and without editing (though you can always edit once the story is finished—and you should!). You may not churn out a tour de force in your time with the app, but writing stories in such a low-stakes, game-like environment can be a huge boost to a writer’s fluency and confidence.

Speaking of fluency and confidence, the app comes in a version tailored for kids, called Writing Challenge for Kids. This version is also $1.99 on both iOS and Android devices, and follows the same game-style format as the original version.

The app’s description in the iTunes Store says the app is for kids ages seven to fourteen, parents who want to make their kids play with their creativity, teachers who want to improve creativity and writing skills in their classrooms, and even for writers of all ages who want to write books for children.

For more information on the apps, head to the App Store on your device, or check them out online using the hyperlinks above.

Happy writing!

Squire Summer Writing Residency Offers “Supportive Community”

2013 Fiction Workshop

2013 Fiction Workshop

They say word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool. So we’re not going to list the reasons you should attend NCWN’s 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency, July 23-26 at East Carolina University in Greenville. We won’t go on and on about our awesome faculty (Jan DeBlieu, Amber Flora Thomas, Luke Whisnant) or how solid the open mic readings always are.

We’re just going to let a few past attendees tell it like it is:

“I attended the Squire Summer Writing Residency in 2013. Although I’d been writing for some time by then, it was my first residency program and it was a wonderful introduction to the format. I spent two-and-a-half days with a talented group of fiction writers, and we critiqued each other’s work and wrote new pieces under the guidance of our extremely gifted teacher, Elizabeth Lutyens. The feedback I received from this group helped me restructure and refine the novel I’d been working on, and I went on to finish that novel and begin a second one. Even more important, the time in the residency offered a much needed infusion of support and encouragement.

“The group of fiction writers I met during the Squire Summer Writing Residency got along so well that eight of us have continued to meet. We are a diverse group: we range from new college graduates to retirees; we come from the United States, Canada, and England. We write short stories, novels, and memoirs; some of us write spare, direct prose, some create poetic post-apocalyptic fiction, and a few craft exquisite Southern tales. Amazingly, all of us have strong voices, and more amazingly, we all appreciate and respect the diversity of voices within the group.

“I am forever grateful that I attended the Squire Summer Writing Residency. The level of instruction was first-rate and the talent and hard work of the participants was inspiring. I highly recommend the program to anyone who would like to improve their writing, and who would like to do so in the midst of a like-minded, supportive community.”
—Allison Freeman, Durham


Janet Ford

Janet Ford

“After a career teaching in North Carolina public schools, my writing practice needed a jumpstart, and I found it at the Squires Summer Writing Residency. Whereas my work left me neither the time nor the energy for a long term commitment such as a creative writing class, those three days among writers who shared a common focus provided just the alternative I needed. Thank you, Squires!”
—Janet Ford, Taylorsville


“The first NCWN Squire Summer Writing Residency I attended eight years ago gave me encouragement that changed my life and to this day inspires me.

“The second NCWN Squire Summer Writing Residency I attended three years ago gave me friendships and support that promise to thrive for years to come.

“Both have enriched my life immeasurably. I am deeply grateful to the Network, and specifically the Squire family, for their on-going support of this remarkable program.”
—Carol Phillips, Silk Hope


“When I attended the Squire Summer Writing Residency in 2013, when it was held on the Western Carolina University campus, I had no idea the far-reaching impact the experience would have, not only on my writing, but on my writing relationships. I participated in the poetry sessions led by Kathryn Stripling Byer, who is as skilled at teaching as she is at crafting her own poetry. In the time we spent together, she focused on every poem submitted in advance by each participant in the group. Her candid, genuine, respectful critiques were useful beyond the specific poem in question.



“We had the opportunity, through open mic readings, to hear from participants in other groups, which also proved valuable. In the months since the residency, I have maintained contact—and friendships—with several writers from my group, and I see others at state writing events, which feels like a homecoming. The NCWN personnel made sure everything ran smoothly, and we had plenty of opportunity to share in an informal setting.”
—Nancy C. Posey, Hickory


“Imagine, if you can, a room full of thoughtful readers who have all read your manuscript with the precision of a good editor and are ready to get you on your way to publication. If you can imagine this, then you will be at home at the NC Writers’ Network Squire Summer Writing Residency. Last summer, I vetted a manuscript that eventually won me second place in The Asheville Writer’s Workshop Literary Fiction contest! Whether you are a veteran writer who wants to fine tune a manuscript or a beginner who wants to learn more about the craft, the Squire Summer Writing Residency is for you.”
—Pam Van Dyk, Raleigh


Registration for the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency closes Wednesday, July 8. Register now!

The Insatiable Sea

Sven Birkerts is the editor of AGNI. He recently wrote an article for the AGNI Newsletter (subscribe here): “Five Things the Submitting Writer Should Know.”

Birkerts invokes the phrase “the insatiable sea” to describe the slush pile at AGNI because:

“…while the submitter thinks of herself as a lone writer writing (at least this submitter has always thought of himself that way), the magazine editor hauling in the bin packed with envelopes—or nowadays opening the Submissions Manager on the office computer—cannot but react each time to the quantity, the oceanic volume.”

Let’s say it again. Oceanic. Volume. Of submissions.

So, what goes on after we hit “submit”? Birkerts offers these five insights.

1. At AGNI, unsolicited submissions are sorted into one of three categories: “not right for us, look more closely, and promising.” More than 60 percent are “not right for us.” About a quarter percent are “look more closely.” And about 10 percent get passed along to first readers as “promising.” Maybe less.

2. Of the more than 60 percent of submissions that don’t make the first cut, “this is in many cases less because the work is not accomplished in its way, but because its way is not ours.” That is, the author has submitted a piece to AGNI that doesn’t fit the magazine’s aesthetic. Writers can save themselves time and frustration (and heartbreak) by researching each magazine ahead of time to see if that magazine publishes writing like ours.

3. Cover letters are nice, but the opening lines are more important than anything else. “As an editor confronting the day’s abundance, I want to find a reason to stop reading as soon as I can,” Birkerts says. “As an editor in love with good writing, I want to find that I cannot stop.”

4. Submitting a piece that’s right for the magazine is much more important than any of your publication credits or awards. Birkerts says, “Finding myself unable to stop reading the work of a new or unfamiliar writer is—well, it’s frankly one of the two or three things that make this job compelling to me.”

5. This last one is hardest to define, so here’s Birkerts again:

Finally, most important—and maybe the thing most rarely mentioned in discussions of literary magazines and what they look for—is the fact of the art itself: the fiction, poetry, or essay that arrives, whether on paper or backlit by computer light. That it should never seem to the person receiving it like a submission. That it should not feel like another rung on some writer’s ladder to some imagined success, a potential bit of cachet for the CV. That it should feel like—and be—an authentic and necessary expression, something that couldn’t not be written. That it be part of the long sustaining continuum of literature. We know when we are in the presence of that and, believe me, we are interested.

AGNI opens for submissions September 1. Click here to visit their website.

Reading Recs from Amber Flora Thomas

Amber Flora Thomas

Amber Flora Thomas

Amber Flora Thomas will lead the poetry workshop at the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency, July 23-26, at East Carolina University, in Greenville.

This workshop will provide space and time for participants to generate new poems, evaluate existing poems, and engage with tool building activities and discussions to inspire revision and more writing. Our time will be divided between the critique of existing poems and the crafting of new poems. The environment in this workshop is one of support and encouragement, welcoming self-expression and development for writers at all levels. Participants will submit three poems in advance of the workshop (see below), all of which should not have been in a workshop elsewhere. Please be prepared to write during and outside workshop sessions, using writing prompts designed to help you “stumble to the door” and find those poems, no matter what.

Here are three books recommended by Amber, followed by a note from her about each:

The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Writing Poetry by Richard Hugo
Hugo’s short collection of essays has been a staple of young poets for over thirty years. No matter how many times I read this work, it always manages to remind me of why I write poetry. And, I find in these pages how thick the mystery and magic still is, even after writing in this form for more than twenty years.

The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Dorianne Laux and Kim Addonizio
This is an excellent text for beginning and experienced writers seeking new approaches and entry places for the poem. It provides useful lessons, readings, and many helpful writing exercises, which I have been using my classes for ten years now.

Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, Essays by Jane Hirshfield
If you didn’t know the spiritual power of engaging in the act of creating the poem, then this book will help guide you toward a more intimate experience of poem. Hirshfield shares a vision of poetry that proves both spiritual and profound in helping the reader see the poem as a place that blends the outside experiences with the deepest places in our psyches.

The Squire Summer Writing Residency offers an intensive course in a chosen genre (fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry), with ten hour-and-a-half sessions over the four days of the program. Registrants work in-depth on their own manuscript samples, as well as their colleagues’, while also studying the principles of the genre with their instructor. Other features include faculty readings, panel discussions, and open mic sessions for residents.

Registration is open through July 8. Register now!

Punsters U-Knighted in Durham

This spring, The Regulator Bookshop hosted the Fourth Annual Great Durham Pun Championship at Motorco in Durham.

Contestants went head-to-head in front of a sold-out crowd. Participants were assigned a subject; the first “punster” was given ten seconds to think of a pun. The second contestant then had ten seconds to retort, and so on, back and forth, until one punster ran out of lines.

Order was maintained by “Judge” George Gopen, Ph.D, JD, Professor Emeritus of the Practice of Rhetoric at Duke.

If you like a good pun, or need a laugh on this Monday, check out these video highlights!

Reading Recs from Jan DeBlieu

Jan DeBlieu

Which stories in our lives most demand to be told? What themes connect them?

Jan DeBlieu will lead the Creative Nonfiction Workshop at the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency. Her workshop participants will study the art of the personal essay, in which scraps of material with no apparent connection can be woven together to form elegant, compelling narratives. They will learn to create what John Gardner called the “fictive dream”: writing that, whether invented or true, draws readers wholly into their worlds.

Here, Jan talks a bit about what attendees can expect if they register for her class, and what she considers essential reading for anyone hoping to write compelling nonfiction.


In our sessions together, we will critique each other’s work, as well as look at true stories in which the authors skillfully include the components that make writing successful—compelling narratives, believable characters, and pacing that keeps the reader’s attention.

Here are some examples of works that succeed beautifully in these aspects.

1. Writing a personal essay can be an exploration for writer and reader alike. In his essay “Buckeye,” Scott Russell Sanders skillfully demonstrates how to bring a person—in this case his father—to life on the page, while telling a poignant, satisfying, and deeply moving story. How does he accomplish this? We’ll be examining this piece to see. Here’s a link to the essay in the online journal Terrain:

2. Love it or hate it, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is a page-turner, as well as a blockbuster bestseller. Even people who complain about the author’s self-absorption have difficulty putting the book down. Why?

The same is true of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s work. This prolific and acclaimed Norwegian writer is penning a six-volume autobiography (yes, really, and he’s not that old), and the first four volumes are quite popular in Europe. Many readers commented that Knausgaard’s two-part article “My Saga” was pretty strange—but that they just had to finish it.

What compels us to keep reading certain works? How do they pull us in? We’ll discuss this with an eye toward mixing some of that same irresistible quality into our own work.

3. John McPhee can make any subject interesting. He’s also a master of powerful, succinct description. In The Control of Nature, he tells the story of three different landscapes and how they shape the people within them. My favorite part of the book comes in the opening pages of the third section, “Los Angeles Against the Mountains.” Take a look at how McPhee crafts the opening scene—which features a family being trapped when an avalanche of rocks descends on their house.


The NCWN 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency runs July 23-26 at East Carolina University in Greenville. Registration is open through July 8, but only to the first forty-eight registrants. Don’t delay: register now!

Why Attend the Squire Summer Writing Residency?


Bo Bowden at 2014 Squire Summer Writing Residency

The North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency runs July 23-26 at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. Registration is happening right now, and there are plenty of good reasons to join us Down East this summer, including our three amazing workshop offerings:

There will also be faculty readings, open mics for conference participants, and evening programs. Need more reasons to attend? Don’t take our word for it.

“The 2014 Squire Summer Writing Residency offered three days to focus on writing alongside some amazing talent. Fellow participants shared their work and offered both encouragement and suggestion for my own. In addition to fifteen hours of workshop, highlights included Randall Kenan’s faculty reading and Shelby Stephenson’s dinner conversation, poetry reading, and banjo playing. It was a wonderful event!”
—Terri Anastasi, Raleigh, author of Fending

“The 2014 Squire Summer Writing Residency in Raleigh was great! The fiction workshop with Randall Kenan was fresh and enlightening. In three and half days, we shared the equivalent of a week of class time. The camaraderie built was unique to this NCWN event—for me, it’s where the ‘network’ came to life! A fun way to build new friendships among writers in the Tar Heel State.”
—Bo Bowden, Richmond, VA

All registrations for the NCWN 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency must be received and paid in full by 5:00 pm, Wednesday, July 8.

Call to Action: Arts Budget Moves to Senate

Take action no later than Thursday, June 4!

The House budget is now in the hands of the Senate.

A vigorous grassroots response will be essential in convincing the Senate to accept the House recommendation for arts funding which includes:




  • Since 2008, the North Carolina Arts Council and its partners statewide have endured 35% in debilitating cuts. The $750,000 recommended by the House restores at 10%, still leaving the Council at a net loss of 25%.
  • The arts are partners with the Senate in creating a more friendly business environment. Quality of life is essential to attracting and expanding businesses and to recruitment and retention of skilled workers.
  • Include a short paragraph about how the arts improve the business climate of your community.
  • Offer support and affirmation for his/her service to North Carolina.
  • If you know the Senator personally, please call rather than send an email. Even if you do not know your Senator, a phone message is often more effective than an email
  • If you email, make sure your communication does not appear to be a “form” letter. Use your own Email Subject, such as From Your District or Please Support Arts Funding.

Please forward any responses you receive to


View the Revised Legislative Agenda here.


By Ed Southern

2014 Squire Summer Writing Residency

2014 Squire Summer Writing Residency

The North Carolina Writers’ Network is open to all writers, at all levels of skill and experience, working in all genres, with all manner of goals and aspirations.

We say it, and we mean it.

Because we mean what we say, we want to explain why we ask registrants for certain programs to submit manuscript samples with their registrations, and why we say those programs—namely, the Squire Summer Writing Residency, and the Master Classes at the Spring and Fall Conferences—are open only to “qualified registrants.”

When we ask for manuscript samples, we don’t care how good or bad the writing is. That’s not for us to judge.

We don’t care how long or short your list of publications is. We’re not looking for—we’re not here for—only writers with an arbitrary amount of experience.

We’re looking for evidence of dedication—dedication to the craft, to improving your craft, to approaching the craft of writing in a serious way.

We want to get the feeling that you’re ready to handle the intensive instruction you’ll receive at the Residency or in one of our Master Classes, whether you’re a beginner or a published author.

So if you’re wondering about applying to this year’s Residency at East Carolina University, don’t worry that you might not be “good enough.”

However good you are, or are not, the Residency will help you get better—but only if you’re ready and willing to dedicate yourself.

Registration for the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency is now open. Space is limited to only forty-eight attendees, so register now!

Amplifying the Voices of Durham Youth

By Austin Evans

Durham’s literary future is looking brighter than ever with the advent of Durham Mighty Pen, a new organization dedicated to providing programs for children and adolescents centered on creative writing, publishing, and tutoring.

According to its website, the organization exists “because [we] believe critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills—cultivated seamlessly and with unparalleled effectiveness in creative writing contexts—are necessary in building confidence, opportunity, and community.”

The vision of Durham Mighty Pen is “a vibrantly diverse Durham in which every student has equal access to academic achievement, and acknowledges that ‘students armed with the power of words and creativity can engage their communities as agents of change, and break the cycle of poverty and marginalization from the inside out.'”

Durham Mighty Pen recently completed its inaugural program, “The Short of It,” a six-week collaborative short-story workshop created by Programming Director Matthew Arnold for students grades 6-8. The program was held on Tuesday nights from 6:00-7:00 pm at the Emily Krzyzewski Center at 904 W. Chapel Hill Street in Durham. The workshop culminated in the release of a collection of students’ workshop pieces on Sunday, May 17, as part of the Read Local Festival at Durham Central Park.

While Durham Mighty Pen will partner with local businesses and organizations around town to find accommodations for programming, an hour-long in-school program is currently being designed to help students become great peer editors. So, if you are a local classroom teacher, Durham Mighty Pen would love to be invited into your classroom to offer this unique opportunity to your students!

Future programming is still in the works, and Durham Mighty Pen is seeking volunteers and donors to help grow Durham’s first program explicitly committed to bringing high quality creative writing and publishing experience to underserved youth. There is a list of current volunteer openings, as well as a nice donation page that details exactly how your money will help amplify the creative voices of Durham’s youth. The organization has not yet acquired 501(c)(3) status, however, so you will have to contact Durham Mighty Pen directly with regards to making your donations tax deductible.

More information can be found at